Japandemonium - Rusholme Ruffians

Evening everyone, and welcome to this week's Japandemonium. It was a good week for announcements, and Monolith was especially busy in this regard. Besides the Xenosaga games that saw two official sites launched, the company also officially unveiled Baten Kaitos (which you can read all about below). Up first, however, are the weekly sales figures.

No new RPGs were released in Japan last week, meaning that the Dengeki figures show little of interest. The best-selling game during the week ending July 13th was Super Mario Advance 4. The Game Boy Advance port of 1988's Famicom title Super Mario Bros. 3 sold more than 106,000 copies. Sales of RPGs were about the same as in previous weeks, with most of the usual suspects making another appearance. Boktai, Hideo Kojima's sun-sensitive creation, was released in Japan on Friday, and initial reports indicate that the game is selling well. We'll have to wait until next week to see its impact. Sales figures for RPGs in the top twenty are reproduced below.

Pos. Title Publisher Plat. Sales Total
3 Mother 1+2 Nintendo 24,613 217,768
8 Hanjuku Eiyuu Tai 3D Square Enix 13,004 131,453
11 Sangokushi Senki 2 Koei 7,636 48,597
12 Pokémon Sapphire Nintendo 7,518 2,235,898
15 Pokémon Ruby Nintendo 6,509 2,176,988

It was another busy week for Famitsu's editors, who scored two (three?) games of interest to RPGamers. Shining Soul 2, Atlus' sequel to last year's Shining Soul (which has still not been released in North America), earned a Gold Award, while Capcom's Onimusha Tactics, the first RPG based on the company's Onimusha franchise, failed to impress the editors. Despite its not being an RPG, I've included the scores for Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children Puzzle de Goal (a Tetris Attack-style puzzle game based on Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children) in case any series fans were considering importing the game.

Title Publisher Plat. Scores
Shining Soul 2 Atlus 8, 8, 8, 8 (32 / 40) Gold
Onimusha Tactics Capcom 7, 8, 7, 7 (29 / 40)
Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children Puzzle de Goal Atlus 6, 5, 6, 6 (23 / 40)

In case you missed it, Tuesday, July 15th, was the 20th anniversary of the Famicom's release in Japan. The console was an immediate success in its home country, and the North American version, called the NES, revitalized an industry that seemed ready to fade away in the mid 1980s. Numerous franchises that are still drawing public and critical acclaim to this day saw their start on the Famicom. To celebrate the anniversary, Nintendo announced a contest on Wednesday that that will give 1,000 winners a special edition of the Game Boy Advance decked out in the original red, white and gold of the Famicom. To qualify, gamers need to buy one of six games being released during August and early September and then submit an application by the end of September.

If that seems like too much work, Tsutaya is also holding a competition that will give 100 winners a Famicom-edition Game Boy Advance. You will still have to buy a game at a Tsutaya store, though. For a look back at the history of the Famicom, check out GameSpy's week-long feature article by Ben Turner and Christian Nutt. (Images courtesy of Impress Game Watch.)

Famicom-edition Game Boy Advance

One of the unique advantages of operating a virtual, persistent world is that it's possible for developers to add in special features on the fly; this is exactly what Square Enix is currently doing in Japan with Final Fantasy XI. Until July 27th, the company is allowing players to buy fireworks to hold their own displays. Four types of fireworks are available from four locations. Check out some images of the fireworks below, courtesy of Quiter.

You would think that with Xenosaga Episode I Reloaded and Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese already in production that Monolith wouldn't have time for too much else. Apparently there is, as the company is also well into the development process with its next game, Baten Kaitos for the GameCube. Set in a vibrant world of floating continents where the ground and the sea are nothing but a legend, the game tells the story of two people with very different motives.

Kalas is a 17-year-old man, determined to find those who murdered his foster parents. Evolution has granted many residents of the world "wings of the heart," which are wings that show themselves when people are stressed or deep in concentration. The wings are usually only exposed during battles, and Kalas, who has only one wing, is forced to use a mechanical substitute to make up for his loss. The second protagonist is a 17-year-old girl named Xelhas who feels a terrible presence growing in the world and sets out to stop it. Also along for the ride is a bizarre creature known as Meemai. This dolphin-looking land-dweller is highly intelligent and able to change its size at will. It travels with Xelha, inside her hood.

The world of Baten Kaitos is filled with spirits, and in the game you take the role of a spirit that resides inside Kalas. Battles are handled by a deep, card-based system. More than a thousand cards will be available, and it's also possible to create new cards out of combinations of existing cards. There are several types of cards, which can be used for regular offensive and defensive purposes and even chain-attacks. Namco, the game's publisher, has announced that Baten Kaitos will be released in Japan in December, and although there has been no mention of a North America release, there is currently much speculation that the game will be localized.

On Friday, Sega opened its new Sakura Cafe (first mentioned in this past installment) on the 7th floor of GIGO in Tokyo's Ikebukuro prefecture. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by several of the series' creators, including RED director Oji Hiroi, Overworks president Noriyoshi Ohba, and Sakura Taisen voice actress Satoshi Yokoyama. The previous day saw several of the cast members of the Sakura Taisen theater production visit the cafe, where they posed for pics and signed the wall. Oji Hiroi told attendees at the opening that he is hoping to put on a special event at the cafe on a monthly basis. There is a lot for series fans to see (and eat), as shown off in the pictures below (images courtesy of Impress Game Watch).

Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe Sakura Cafe

Video Fenky has an interesting summary of an earlier story from Japanese site Sakuragaoka that deals with a cancelled Final Fantasy game. It seems that following Final Fantasy III, Square started work on a fourth game for the Famicom at the same time as it was working on the first Final Fantasy game for the Super Famicom (Final Fantasy IV). When the company realized that the Super Famicom installment surpassed the Famicom game in most respects, Square halted development; not before some interesting ideas were introduced, however. The cancelled game was set to include stores that would allow you (and the other residents of the world) to purchase various kinds of airships, and the job system from Final Fantasy III was also targeted for an overhaul. The latter isn't too surprising, given how the battle system has changed over the course of the franchise, but being able to buy and fly a number of airships is an interesting concept. Below is a single image, apparently from an old issue of Famitsu, from the ill-fated project (images courtesy of Sakuragaoka ).

Final Fantasy IV (?)


That's it from my side for this week. In closing, I want to mention another video game book that I'm reading: "Trigger Happy," by regular EDGE magazine columnist Steven Poole. In it, Poole tackles a broad range of topics related to our pastime, offering commentary along the way. I'm about 50 pages in already (242 pages total), and so far it's decent. The book is written in an odd manner: half a cursory history of the medium and half an analysis of it. The thing is, at this point in the book, the history isn't as detailed as in previous books and the analytical parts don't offer much insight. I'll save final judgment for when I've finished it, but so far I would recommend it with reservations.

The book did make me think about how far video games still have to go to immerse themselves into our culture. While the video game industry makes more money than Hollywood does (at least at the box office), the industry (or art form) is still far from reaching maturity. Take books, as a not-so-random example: We have several excellent titles that explore what has come before, but there is very little when it comes to analyzing the industry and its impact on society. While the medium's youth is definitely a factor, I wonder how much of this lack of analysis is simply because there isn't all that much to analyze? The current situation is sure to change as serious writers who grew up loving video games come of age, but we're not there yet.

It seems to me that video game journalism has a long way to go as well. To quote GamePro's Kevin Gifford in a posting on his blog: "I always cringe a little bit when I hear someone call himself a 'video game journalist' in the U.S., because--and I hardly mean offense to anyone reading this--the criteria for becoming a salaried video-game journalist around here aren't ponderously high. If you know persons X, Y and Z, and can write coherent text on a timely basis, you're 90-percent of the way in. For someone to actually deserve being called a 'journalist,' I think he or she should at least be willing to gather up the content they discuss by themselves, establishing contacts and building relationships all around the industry."

That statement was in response to a message board thread that pointed out hypocrisy on the part of a professional video game site that ran an editorial reprimanding people for using their content without their consent, while (most likely without the editorial author's knowledge) the pro site in question was doing much the same thing. The incident was eventually handled adequately and promises were made to change practices, but it's events like these that make me realize that we still have a long way to go. A lot of video game journalism amounts to little more than repeating whatever developers and publishers are willing to divulge, and while this doesn't differ all that much from other specialist media, it still seems that there is a lot of room for improvement. There are, thankfully, magazines, like EDGE, that serve as an example of where we are headed.

Maybe I'm just cranky (or totally wrong). What do you think? Post your thoughts on the message board, or send me an e-mail. I'd like to hear your opinion. Till next time, take it easy.

Exeunt all

Missed an installment? Check out the archives.

Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, GamePro, Namco, Nintendo, Quiter, GameSpy, Gamers, Sakuragaoka , Video Fenky]

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger

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